Over the past decade, the telecom industry has helped to fuel the digital transformation of entire industries, economies and societies. But now the sector is entering a more challenging time following years of significant growth.
In order to stay ahead of the game, operators must build the next generation of high-speed fixed and mobile networks to keep up with customer demand; doing so will require massive investments. At the same time, they must invest in innovation and the development of new strategic capabilities. But operators are hindered in these efforts. Their traditional sources of revenues are becoming commoditized and many are struggling to find new unique services to catch the attention of their customers.
To meet all these demands, operators must strive to build leaner, more adaptive, modular and increasingly complex business models. And they must acquire the capabilities needed to ensure that these new business models can succeed, even as they continue to invest in next-generation fixed and mobile infrastructures.
Forward-looking business models must be based on a deep understanding of three overarching trends that are driving the industry into the future.
The first trend is customer ubiquity. Consumers and businesses demand constant and universal access to digital applications and content: The more bandwidth and services that operators provide, the more their customers will consume. This demand will put huge burdens on operators’ current fixed and mobile networks. Data already makes up the vast majority of network activity; much of it driven by video streaming on the web and it just keeps growing: video streaming in the United States has increased by a hefty 78 percent per year since 2005. The continuing rise of mobile ‘apps’ — the hundreds of thousands of services available on smartphones and other devices everywhere — will only intensify the phenomenon of customer ubiquity. Operators will lose ground to technology companies like Apple and Google unless they find a way to cash in on the mobile app business, which is expected to generate $40 billion in revenue by 2014.
The second trend is technology modularity, in which networks, services and applications are rapidly evolving and shifting away from vertical integration toward modular, open systems. Different networks (such as fixed, wireless and broadband) will serve end-users directly, delivering the required ubiquitous connectivity. Both applications and service offerings such as on-demand movies and gaming will likely be based on systems that will essentially be independent from the infrastructure through which they are accessed. This means that parts of the entire system can be built not just by operators but by a variety of non-industry rivals, as they try to gain a share of future revenues.
The third trend is industry innovation. Operators used to focus on protecting their core business — the development of large-scale networks — rather than experimenting with smaller initiatives. As a result, they have left themselves vulnerable to a vast array of competitors developing apps and services.
New models for a new industry
Once operators understand the implications of these three trends, they must select, design and build new business models — and the accompanying capabilities — to respond to and benefit from them. There are four distinct business models that will shape the future of telecom operators:
Network guarantors use their network assets to provide widely available and open infrastructure and timely, reliable, cost-efficient services. Their primary customers are companies operating under the business enabler model, which can take advantage of their infrastructure to offer more advanced services to their own customers. This model will require operators to be efficient in their planning, provisioning and operations, and to offer high levels of quality in terms of network reliability and service levels.
The business enabler is a “double-sided” business model. On one side, it provides end users with the broadband services they need. On the other, it helps application and service providers manage their own businesses, providing them with wholesale broadband, managed services, transaction and billing support, and platforms such as hosting and cloud computing. To make this model work, operators must cultivate their capabilities in partnership, offer flexible service customization, and aggregate their customer bases and service providers.
Experience creators capitalize on consumers’ thirst for new apps and services, as well as the needs of companies in any number of industries to digitize their businesses. They will provide consumers and business customers alike with the ubiquitous connectivity they demand — with targeted applications, fresh content and a distinctive experience — as well as the ability to create and distribute their own content. To do so, they must be extremely innovative in their products and services, as well as dedicated to serving different customer segments effectively.
Each of these three business models offers operators a way to compete in increasingly fragmented telecom markets. To extend the gains made in one market by replicating the model in other markets, there is a fourth business model that operators should consider — especially if they already have significant scale and scope, as well as operations beyond single markets or regions.
This model, the global multimarketer, offers a path for operators to make the leap to becoming truly global entities. Thanks to their inherent strengths in branding, efficiencies and reach, global operators are proving stronger than their local rivals. Successful global multimarketers are able to benefit from the cost savings available through sheer scale, as evidenced by the efficiency in capital expenditures that a select group of global operators have gained in some markets.
The only way operators can counter the numerous threats they face is by creating new business models that can effectively respond to the rapid changes overtaking the telecom industry. Operators that understand the need to move away from their traditional vertical organizations and to develop one or more of these business models must ultimately transform themselves into one or another of the modular organizations described above, with the ability to replicate their capabilities and business models across different markets and customer segments.
But building those capabilities and business models will take time. The winners will be those operators that are first to understand the need to make this transformation, and then move fast.